On the first day of the Budget Session of Parliament, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi provoked all-round criticism by taking a sudden leave of absence, apparently to “introspect” on recent political events.

Party president Sonia Gandhi maintained that Rahul has been “given a few weeks. He needs some time”. Asked whether he has been given some time to reflect on the future course of the party as its leader, Sonia said: “Well, the reason is what you have been told.”

While Congress sources said this is a definite signal that Rahul is preparing to take over the reins of the Grand Old Party in a session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) scheduled around end of March or beginning of April, the move could not have been more ill-timed.

A meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party, scheduled for Tuesday, will finalise the party’s strategies for the session in the absence of Rahul.

Vision document

A Congress leader close to Rahul said the latter’s immediate task is to energise the party. “He will meet more people. His plan is to come up with a vision document on collective responsibility within the party in the AICC session. There will be a sea-change in the way the party organisation works after the AICC session,” he claimed.

However, his absence from Parliament is a definite minus for the party.

The Budget session started on Monday and, more significantly, the government is under all-round attack on various ordinances, especially concerning amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014.

It is an issue that Rahul has been particularly vocal about. His intervention in mining bauxite for Vedanta’s refinery at Lanjigarh had halted the project in August 2010.

The project was being opposed by the local Dongaria Kondh tribe because they consider the Niyamgiri hills, where the mining activity was mostly concentrated, as “sacred”. Rahul had visited Jagannathpur village at the foothills of Niyamgiri on August 24, 2010, after which the Ministry of Environment and Forest rejected the clearance given to the mining project. Rahul was also active in the agitation against the acquisition of land in Delhi’s neighbourhood village Bhatta Parsaul in Greater Noida.

But now that the BJP government has amended the Land Acquisition Act, leading to the prospect of a national agitation by farmers’ organisations and opposition parties, including the farmers’ wing of the RSS, Rahul has gone on “a few weeks’ sabbatical”.

The unfortunate timing was not missed by political opponents who lampooned him through the day.

A Youth Congress leader from Kerala hoped that Rahul will learn from the party’s history. “First, he will have to do away with his coterie, which is full of management professionals and failed politicians. He should interact more with leaders with mass base in the Congress. We hope that the high command will have regional leaders with considerable popularity rather than people without any emotional approach towards public work,” the person added.

The BJP’s youth wing chief and MP Anurag Thakur remarked that the Congress has been reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha precisely because its leaders choose to be absent in Parliament.

“They were missing in the last two Lok Sabha sessions as well…This is why the Congress has come to 44 seats in Lok Sabha,” Thakur said.

It was not just the timing but the fact that Rahul has chosen to go abroad for his “reflection” that provoked sarcastic comments from the ruling party.

While the venue of his “holiday”was not made public, some in the Congress said he has left for the Bahamas while others said he has taken off to Munich, from where he will fly to Greece.

Under attack for the land ordinance and its humiliating defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections, Rahul’s holiday has given the BJP a much-needed target for attack.

“It is the NDA government’s first budget and he (Rahul Gandhi) is holidaying. There will be questions about his interest in politics and the country’s affairs,” said Union Minister and BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy.